MANILA — Senate Energy Committee chair Sen. Raffy Tulfo on Friday urged the Senate Finance Committee to restore the Department of Energy’s (DOE) P6-billion electrification budget intended to provide electricity to more households in the Philippines.
This, after the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) slashed the DOE’s request by P4 billion in the proposed budget for 2024.
The DOE originally proposed P6 billion but the DBM’s National Expenditure Program for 2024 submitted to Congress only allocated P1.6 billion for the National Electrification Administration’s Sitio Electrification Program and another P500,000 for the DOE.
NEA Administrator Antonio Mariano Almeda told the Senate panel that the original P6 billion request would cover 2,000 sitios but the reduced P1.6-billion budget would only be enough for 576 sitios, prompting Tulfo to ask the DBM why this was the case.
“O kayo diyan sa DBM, di kayo maaawa doon sa 1,500 sitios na made-deprive ng electricity?” he asked a DBM representative, who promised to relay his concern to the DBM personnel handling NEA’s budget.
DOE Secretary Raphael Lotilla said that a bigger budget is, in fact, needed to comply with President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.’s goal of achieving 100 percent household electrification by 2028.
“So the requirements, actually, if we are to rely fully on the NEA-administered program would be roughly P14 billion a year. But the request is smaller than that, just to be able to demonstrate that in fact NEA, through the electric cooperatives, would be able to roll out and implement that full amount. But unfortunately, in the prioritization by the national government through the Department of Budget and Management, the one approved by the President is only P1.6 billion,” he explained.
Lotilla said that a 2015 census showed a 98 percent electrification rate but this went down to 96 percent during a 2020 census.
“Dumadami ho households. We cannot cope with this given the present budgetary limitations,” he explained.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros however presented a separate data from electric cooperatives showing that in 2023, only 89 percent of households were electrified, a figure Almeda confirmed.
Lotilla however said this figure does not include data from 20 private electric distribution utilities.
Almeda said NEA has actually crafted a 5-year catchup plan to reach the President’s target.
Under the plan, NEA aims to reach a 91 percent electrification rate by 2024, 95 percent by 2025, 97 percent by 2026 and 100 percent by 2027.
However, he said the total budget requirement for the 5-year period is P69 billion, of which P12.59 billion would be needed by 2024 and P14 million for each succeeding year.
Aside from the Sitio Electrification Program, NEA intends to do this through its Barangay Line Enhancement Program and PhotoVoltaic Mainstreaming/Solar Home System Projects.
But Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, vice chair of the Senate finance and energy committees, doubted if the national government has enough funds to meet the goal.
“Assuming we can find P6 billion, the next question is, can they spend P6 billion? Because later on, we will talk about utilization. Some of the program have utilization issues. So that’s another issue that we need to contend with,” he said.
“But on the average, I’ve seen NEA budget on electrification is around P1.6 to P2 billion, on the average. So to be realistic, to allocate more than that is a tall order. That’s why, Sen. Legarda, Sen. Risa, we push for that Microgrid law. The whole point of that law is to invite the private sector to invest. Because we recognize that government funds is not enough…to reach all households in the country,” he added.
Signed into law in January 2022, Republic Act 11646 or the Microgrid Systems Act allows microgrid system providers to provide electricity in unserved and underserved areas without need for a congressional franchise, only an authority to operate from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
Unserved areas are those without electrical access while underserved areas received electricity for less than 24 hours a day.
TULFO HITS NIA, OTHER AGENCIES
Senator Tulfo was however optimistic the national government can allocate more funds to the DOE and NEA, castigating the DBM for slashing their budget proposal.
“Doon sa napakahalagang programang yun, doon kayo nag-slash ng apat na bilyon samantalang sa iba’t ibang agency na tadtad ng korapsyon, binuhusan nyo po ng budget. One to sawa, no holds barred, if you will,” he said.
(You slashed P4 billion of this very important program but in other agencies plagued with corruption, you poured unlimited funding.)
“Kasama na dyan yung National Irrigation Authority na bilyon-bilyon kada taon ang inyo pong bina-budget doon at daan-daang milyon ang nakukurakot lang na hindi naman talaga nagagamit, hindi naman talaga napupunta sa irrigation program. So dapat doon kayo naka-sentro, doon sa mga agencies na corrupt, doon kayo mag-slash nang marami, wag doon sa mga agencies na importante po yung budget na ibibigay natin sa kanila, na makakatulong po sa mga taumbayan,” he added.
(This includes the National Irrigation Authority, which you give billions in funding year in year out and hundreds of millions go to corruption and not really to the irrigation program. You should focus on corrupt agencies and cut their funding, not on agencies that provide important service to the public.)
Tulfo previously probed NIA’s unfinished projects at a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing in August.
He instead suggested transferring a portion of NIA’s proposed budget to the DOE.
“By the way, meron akong natanggap na balita na naglolobby ang NIA ng additional P100 billion? Nagla-lobby ata sa Congress na madagdagan sila ng P100 billion? Grabe naman yun, wala pa nga silang naipakitang irigasyon ay humirit pa sila. Binatikos ko na nga sila left and right sa Blue Ribbon kasi hindi sila makapag-produce ng istruktura, irrigation, ghost projects and all, and maghihirit sa inyo ng P100 billion?” he said.
(By the way, I received information that the NIA is lobbying for an additional P100 billion. They’re asking Congress for P100 billion more? That’s too much. They haven’t even shown irrigation projects, now they’re asking for more. I criticized them at the Blue Ribbon committee hearing because they could not produce structures, irrigation, ghost projects and all, and they’re asking for P100 billion more?)
ABS-CBN News is still seeking NIA’s side on this issue.
The DOE’s proposed budget for 2024 amounts to P2.59 billion, 48 percent of which will go to maintenance and other operating expenses, 27 percent to personnel services and 25 percent to capital outlay.
NEA, on the other hand, is asking for P1.83 billion from the national government, which will comprise 40 percent of its funding. Half of its P4.57 billion funding will come from its corporate funds while 10 percent will be sourced from equity from the national government.
The ERC’s proposed budget under the NEP meanwhile is P664 million, which it is trying to raise to P907.9 million, lower than its current allocation of P1.05 billion.
The budget hearing, which lasted 6 hours, touched on other energy concerns such as the transition to renewable energy, addressing electricity rates, and concerns over blackouts and loss of power supply experienced during the summer months, among others.
Asked by Sen. Hontiveros what assurance the DOE can give that there won't be any more red or yellow alerts, DOE Usec. Rowena Guevarra said they are 97 percent sure these won't happen again because renewable energy generators are starting to come in and the reserve market will be fully operational by the end of the year.
“We shouldn’t have that problem next year. Barring natural disasters, we should be okay,” she said.
DOE Usec Felix William Fuentebella, for his part, said they are targeting at least 50% of government vehicles will be e-vehicles by 2040, as part of the roadmap for the e-vehicle industry.
The budgets of the 3 agencies have been referred to the Senate plenary for further deliberations.